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Overton Park Conservancy Position Statement

Overton Park Conservancy Board Chairman Ray Pohlman released the following statement today, March 7, 2016:

The Memphis City Council on March 1, 2016, passed a resolution that the vast majority of the Greensward was to be “devoted for Zoo purposes only.” The Council’s resolution appears to conflict with OPC’s authority to “manage,” “operate,” and “lease” the Greensward, when the City Mayor had clearly transferred that authority to the Conservancy. However, although concerned, the Conservancy remains optimistic that most of the issues can be resolved by agreement, and we remain willing and anxious to make every effort to do so.

To the extent there is any question whether Zoo customers may continue to park on the northern third of the Greensward on “peak” days, when the Zoo’s other parking lots are full, there is not and never has been any disagreement between the Conservancy and the City about that. The Conservancy has always acknowledged and accepted that, unless and until acceptable alternatives are found, Zoo customers may continue to park on the Greensward on “peak” days as a last resort. The Conservancy agreed to that in writing with Mayor Wharton and we have reiterated that agreement with Mayor Strickland and the Council.

The Conservancy’s Executive Director, Tina Sullivan, emphasized that in her statement at the Council meeting. It is our belief that the Mayor, as the City’s sole contracting officer under the Charter, has jurisdiction to decide whether and when satisfactory alternatives to Greensward parking are available and should be adopted. Therefore, as and when alternative parking solutions are found, accepted by Mayor Strickland, and he so directs, parking on the Greensward should be reduced accordingly, with the ultimate goal that it be eliminated.

It is not clear whether and to what extent the Council was attempting in its resolution to deal with any issues other than Greensward parking. As we have said, there is considerable concern that the resolution that has been provided to us has inconsistencies in the exhibits, presenting a number of practical and legal questions.

The Conservancy strongly believes the Council’s resolution is based on fundamental misunderstandings about the basic facts regarding the management agreements the City has entered into with OPC and the Zoo. It is quite clear the City has never agreed to give the Zoo management authority over the Greensward, and that the City very clearly gave that responsibility solely to the Conservancy in 2012. The Conservancy, since 2012, has been managing, operating and leasing the Greensward for private and special events, according to the terms of its agreement with the City Mayor.

The Conservancy sincerely hopes most, if not all, of these issues can be worked out by agreement through mediation rather than by litigation, and we will continue to make every effort to do so.

That is the position of the Overton Park Conservancy as we continue to work with all parties to find real solutions to better serve all of our stakeholders and, more importantly, all of our visitors to Overton Park.

Ray Pohlman
Overton Park Conservancy